Full 2013 Mazda MAZDA3 Review
What's New for 2013
The 2013 Mazda 3 gains some new electronic features, including a larger screen for the navigation system and a USB audio input for most trim levels. Standard and optional feature content has also changed slightly.
The horsepower wars that besiege luxury and sports cars, and even full-size family sedans, largely bypass the compact-car class. Whether due to cost or design, power yields to efficiency in this class. Yet the 2013 Mazda 3 is among the few that deftly combines both.
Introduced last year, Mazda's new direct-injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (dubbed Skyactiv-G) returns as the star of the Mazda 3's power trio. Joined to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, this engine helps the Mazda 3 achieve 40 mpg on the highway without resorting to tricks like special aerodynamics or automatic transmission shift programming that settles into the highest gear before you've left the driveway.
Nor has the increased efficiency compromised horsepower. The Skyactiv engine slots between the 3's base 2.0-liter and top-end 2.5-liter engines, and its acceleration times are quite competitive for the class. Only the 2013 Ford Focus offers a better combination of power and fuel economy, but it only achieves 40 mpg highway with its add-on Super Fuel Economy package.
The Skyactiv engine complements the 3's other strengths, including sharp handling, a stylish interior and the available hatchback body style. But with increased competition, the 3 isn't the automatic pick it once was. The Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and 2013 Hyundai Elantra are all excellent choices for a small sedan or hatch. But for competitive fuel economy integrated with energetic driving character, the 2013 Mazda 3 is still hard to beat.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Mazda 3 is available in four-door sedan and hatchback body styles. Both are available in 3i and 3s trims that are broken into sub-trims. The high-performance Mazdaspeed 3 is reviewed separately.
The 3i SV and Sport trims are available only on the sedan. The SV comes sparsely equipped with 16-inch steel wheels, power mirrors, power windows, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and steering wheel controls. The Sport adds the Skyactiv-G engine, automatic power locks, keyless entry, cruise control, a trip computer and a USB audio input.
The rest of the Mazda 3 trims are available on both the sedan and hatchback. The 3i Touring adds to the Sport equipment 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic air-conditioning, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a rear seat center armrest, Bluetooth (phone and audio streaming) and a six-speaker sound system.
An optional package for the Touring includes a sunroof, blind-spot monitoring and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system.
Those items come standard on the 3i Grand Touring, along with heated mirrors, an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a sliding front center armrest, HD radio, Pandora audio streaming, audio text messaging receive/reply and a navigation system with 5.8-inch color touchscreen and voice controls.
The 3s Grand Touring adds a more powerful four-cylinder engine, 17-inch alloy wheels, upgraded brakes, adaptive automatic bi-xenon headlights, foglamps, LED taillights, rain-sensing wipers, a deck lid spoiler (sedan), sport seats and satellite radio. Most of these features are also available for the 3i Grand Touring as part of the Technology package.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Mazda 3i SV is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 148 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual is standard, while a five-speed automatic is optional.
In Edmunds performance testing, an automatic-equipped 3i with this engine accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.9 seconds -- slightly slow among similarly powerful sedans. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with the manual and 24/33/27 with the automatic.
The 3i Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims get a more advanced 2.0-liter four-cylinder (Skyactiv-G) that produces 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic is optional. In Edmunds performance testing of an automatic-equipped sedan, a Skyactiv Mazda 3 reached 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, which is quick for the class.
EPA fuel economy estimates for this engine put it among the class leaders: 28 city/40 highway/33 combined for a sedan with automatic transmission and 27/39/31 with the manual. The hatchback is estimated to return 28/39/32 and 27/38/31, respectively. In extensive fuel economy testing, we confirmed that this engine does achieve these impressive figures.
The 3s Grand Touring gets a 2.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 167 hp and 168 lb-ft of torque. These numbers are downgraded slightly in California-emissions states. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a five-speed automatic is optional.
In Edmunds testing, the 3s accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds with either transmission. That's a strong performance, but not much of an improvement over the Skyactiv engine and with far less fuel efficiency. EPA estimates for the 2.5-liter are 20/28/23 with the manual and 22/29/25 with the automatic -- quite low returns for the small car segment.
Every Mazda 3 comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, brake assist, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A blind spot warning system is standard on the Grand Touring trims and available on the Touring. In Edmunds brake testing, a 3i Sport stopped from 60 mph in a rather long 135 feet. The 3i Touring was no better, but the sportier 3s stopped in a solid 123 feet.
In government crash testing, the 2013 Mazda 3 received four out of five stars for overall crash protection, five stars for overall frontal protection and three stars for overall side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the 3 the highest rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset, side-impact and roof strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
With several new competitors in the mix, the Mazda 3's interior design and materials quality no longer leads the class. But the 3's cabin is still a testament to Mazda's driver-centric philosophy, with clear gauges and controls and -- at night -- a modern vibe enhanced by red and blue instrument and ambient lighting.
Even the lowest trim levels feature soft-touch surfaces on armrests and panels, while Grand Touring models offer a generous list of premium features among compacts. In particular, this year's Mazda 3 benefits from some new electronic features, including a new navigation system that has a larger, more traditionally mounted touchscreen display.
The front seats are well-shaped, enhanced by leather upholstery at the higher trim levels, which complements the car's ability to grab and hold a turn. But what the 3 offers in driving enjoyment, it sacrifices in interior room. Longer-limbed folks may find the rear seat cramped, while the sedan gives up total cargo space to its rivals. We recommend the hatchback model, since it adds nearly 5 cubic feet of luggage space over the sedan. With the rear seats raised, the hatch offers 17 cubic feet of space, while the sedan gives up just 11.8 cubes.
The 2013 Mazda 3 will surprise most compact car shoppers with its refined road manners, responsive steering and performance-oriented suspension tuning. It's simply one of the most enjoyable small cars to drive, especially when the road opens up and starts to curve. This holds just as true for the daily commute, although those more accustomed to the softer ride of a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla may find the 3's ride quality a bit too firm.
Unless your heart is set on the 3s Grand Touring, we think the Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter is the engine to get. Its 155-hp output slots in between the other two engines, but blows them both away in fuel economy and accelerates nearly as quickly as the 2.5-liter -- only about a half-second separates the two. The engine's accompanying automatic transmission is also a bright spot, offering shifts that are remarkably quick, responsive and smooth.